It appears nearly 9 years into the 21st century that many of the same questions that plagued Christian discourse at the closing of the past century continues to plague it today. One of the lingering, and for some of us nagging questions, is whether the so-called mega church phenomenon is a mega-mess or the Church at its best. This is to say that the mega-church dialogue tends to be centered on two opinions: those who think mega-churches are nothing more than large, consumer driven religious gatherings consisting of people who have drank too deeply from the wells of late-modern superficiality and the American myth of bigger is better; and those who view mega-churches as congregations that have (for better or worst) struck a chord in the public psyche and as a result have the resources to reach larger quantities of people, through more efficient and efficacious ministry practices.
As someone who has either worked for or been a member of a mega-congregation for more than 14 years, I can’t help but think that both critics and celebrants of mega-churches are right on some level or another. Anyone who knows anything about large churches, let alone mega-churches, knows that these congregations have as much to lambaste as they do to laud.
I mean, let’s be honest. On the one hand, mega-churches can provide state of the art worship experiences that utilize the latest technology, but on the other hand, high tech worship experiences, if overdone, can detract congregants from having meaningful inner encounters with the divine. Mega-churches can also give truckloads of money and resources to magnanimous causes, but they also can use their generosity as justification for the pulpit pimping they enact in their services. Mega-churches can also reach masses of people with their message through the medium of religious broadcasting and media, but they can also use this medium to keep their ecclesiastical empires economically oiled with the charitable gifts of hungry, need something to believe in, gullible viewers. I think you see my point.
To be sure, I am aware that my paradoxes do not apply to all mega-churches. Believe me, I am aware. I know all too well that mega-churches are not monolithic and by their very nature are contextual. My point, however, simply is that mega-churches are a mixed bag of both blessings and banes. I think any honest informed observer would be hard-pressed not to concede this point.
Anyhow, a new survey reveals something about mega-churches that you might find interesting. The survey reports that compared to attendees of typical Protestants churches, people who attend mega-churches are more likely to be young, single, more educated and wealthier. In other words, the average mega-church member is the typical urban yuppie . The facts are, of the more than 5 million people who are members of mega-churches (congregants with more than 2,000 members) 62% are under the age of 45. I think it might be interesting to ponder sociologically what these numbers suggest about mega-churches. I have a sneaking suspicion that what one will find is that mega-churches provide an individualistic, technologically savvy, informal experience that is appealing to the post-modern mind. Notwithstanding, I also acknowledge that many mega-churches (like all the ones I have been associated with) are inter-generational and subsequently do not fit the predominately yuppie/buppies profile.
The survey also revealed another interesting fact--more than 77% of mega-church attendees were previously members of another church or religious community, while only 6% said they had no previous church experience. In this sense, mega-churches could be described as religious recovery centers where people come to move past their prior stale or unedifying religious experiences. I personally cannot tell you the number of times someone has shared with me that the reason they left their prior church and joined a mega-church was because they “weren’t being feed,” which is church language for a person no longer being impacted by the message being preached in their former congregation. On another level, one wonders what the value of mega-church outreach is to the so-called unchurched when only six in every 100 people that join mega-congregations are new converts to Christianity.
In the end analysis, I think assessing the true value of Mega-churches is difficult, mainly because the things that make them a blessing give birth to the things that make them an ethical burden. Just some food for thought, I could be wrong? You can read the article for yourself at this link to the Christian post.
Compassionately and Critically yours, Billy Michael Honor Jr.